Bohemian Budapest

Budapest. On first impressions Budapest appears as plush as any other Capital; as the seventh largest city in the EU it’s dramatic architectural inheritance blends with the everyday accoutrements of modern city life: cafes and consumer culture.  Museums, Theatres, Opera houses, Parliament, Cathedrals and Embassies stand proud on wide boulevards filled with snapping tourists and busy workers. The real interest however, lies downtown, in back alleys and behind broken doorways where artists and musicians reside: Welcome to the heart of Hungary, welcome, to Bohemian Budapest.

The Hungarian Parliament building rivals any in the World.
Grey covers grandeur. Spot the bullet holes.
Back street Budapest is like a walk back in time to a post war period. It is a city still covered with the charcoal black of industrial pollution and bullet holes of popular uprising. The beauty of the past radiates beneath this gentle cloak, and this drape gives the city an allure of romance.The air pollution that created the tarnish has been cleaned up but the scars remain; Budapest is a city where the broken ain't necessarily mended. If this was a wealthier place it would sparkle enough to rival it’s old empire partner Vienna, but it is not. The ascension to the EU in 2004 has brought merits to what is currently a declining economy, but it did not bring the euro (nor is wanted) or the attendant flood of investment that has accompanied it's arrival in other Eastern European cities. And, for the person seeking something different, it is this distinction that gives the city it’s unique feel of a walk in the past. And, what a rich past it is: overthrown empires, kings, revolutions, nazi and communist brutality and a golden age of neo-Renaissance and Art Nouveau architectural flourish (1860-1918).
Bikes and lights at Mandala hostel.
Central courtyards feature in Budapest's buildings
Art Noveaux door to courtyard garden. 

MandalaHostel is a peaceful friendly and restful place for the weary traveller on the backstreet Maria Utca. Housed in an art noveau tenement my arrival was serenaded by guitar music echoing in the central atrium. The music continues long into the night as our host Furi, takes us to a folk club where we hear a spirited live session and watch dancers spin, stamp the floor and slap their shoes. Some of us joined in and danced, after a Palinka - fruit brandy- or two that is. The folk music of  Hungary inspired the works of it's most famous composer sons Franz List and Bela Bartok. Here, recorded live, a sample of the folk music of Hungary 

Circle dancing

Art studio come dentist
Neon lit Stairway
Artist woodworkers stop for a rollie
Further down Maria Utca I pushed open a door into a bustling courtyard where all sorts of interesting arty types were hanging out. It turned out to be a studio with a squat feel, even though they paid a small rent. Every one I met was happy talk on any subject from politics to music. Chatting to a group of artists-activists outside that familiar, same old story, comes up: failure in democracy. Here among the young and old alike the response is grassroots activism.  I find Krisztian Bdu and Mate Varga  of  ARH, a group encouraging participatory democracy, creating sculpture in a public square. They perceive increasing centralisation of political power amongst two political parties in Hungary: 

Music, architecture, politics, art and history. It's only been a short visit to Budapest but enough to wet the whistle for a return journey. My last day is spent in one of the cities many spa's soaking in 32 degree waters and sunbathing. Why on earth would I want  go home? but that is always the travellers ache; serendering to the temporary  joy of transitory pleasures. But, I can at least still savour the sounds and stimulation of my memories in Bohemian Budapest.

Frederick, a volunteer at Mandala hostel sings: "travellers paradise"

Artists at work in Maria Utca studio

Building detail. The Grime and the glorious.

Age and youth. Outside the National museum -well worth a visit.
Folk smiles

Artist's materials

Bullet holes

Photography, text and interviews by M. Perry


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